To honk, or not to honk, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the traffic to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous drivers or to take horns against a sea of idiots and by honking instruct them.

Poor Hamlet. I’m sure his famous soliloquy has been bastardized worse than this, but I couldn’t help myself. Every time I hear someone laying on their horn I am dumbfounded by the sheer audacity (and uselessness) of the gesture.

The DMV website considers indiscriminate horn honking not only useless but counter-intuitive to safe driving practices. I looked it up. I also looked up what is involved in becoming a driving instructor and the website said, “Must have horn and be the best driver on the road!”

Um, yeah… it didn’t really say that.

Before I tell you what I really think about those self-important motorists with honk-itis, I will relay what the “California Driver Handbook on Safe Driving Practices” (dmv.ca.gov) has to say about when to honk and when not to honk:


Use Your Horn

• Only when necessary, to avoid collisions.

• To try to get “eye contact” with other drivers. You may tap your horn to alert another driver who might turn in front of you and cause a collision.

• On narrow mountain roads, where you cannot see at least 200 feet ahead of your vehicle.


Don’t Use Your Horn

• If a driver or bicyclist is going slowly and you want him or her to drive faster or get out of your way. The driver or bicyclist may not be able to safely go faster, due to illness, being lost, intoxication, or having mechanical problems with the vehicle.

• To alert other drivers that they made a mistake. Your honking may cause them to make more mistakes or to become angry and retaliate.

• Because you may be angry or upset.

• To honk at pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists unless necessary to avoid a collision. Remember that your horn sounds much louder outside a vehicle.


NOTE: Honking your horn may startle other drivers. It is safer to slow down or stop instead of honking your horn (emphasis added).


If you are one of those motorists who think honking is an acceptable alternative to finger gestures, you may be surprised to find that the DMV does not share your zeal for the theatrics of 82 decibel scoldings.

Even more surprising is the extensive requirements for becoming a driving instructor. These include a high school diploma, completion of a 60 hour course in traffic laws, safe driving practices, motor vehicle operation, and teaching methods (that, coincidentally, do not include laying on your horn to let someone know they’ve pissed you off) , passing a driving school instructor written test and first aid certification.

After all of that, the successful applicant for the occupational license must provide fingerprints and a background check, a physician’s health report, a vehicle safety inspection, a driving school insurance certificate, a $10,000 surety bond and an application for the occupational license. And that’s not even to mention the fees.

All of that is to pointedly point out that YOU are not that guy.

Your horn is, in fact, a component of your vehicle’s emergency warning system and it is unlawful to use your emergency warning system in the absence of an emergency. 

Most angry honkers sound off after a driving faux pas on the part of one of their fellow motorists. If there was danger, the danger has already passed and the honker is only making things worse for everybody around him or her.

And like the boy who cried “wolf,” indiscriminate horn honking makes it more likely that a horn honking in a real emergency situation will be ignored. 

Horn honking, one might have guessed, is one of my pet-peeves (along with the indefinite turn signal that sends a false message), for, if we do not have clear, unambiguous means of communicating with one another on the highways and byways of America, we will have misunderstandings. On the roads, misunderstandings very often lead to serious injury and death.

And since I generally like to end back where I began, let me say, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief:” Honking in its current form is almost always bad, generally illegal, and usually rude. It’s the thing that is rotten in American driving culture, and it really should be stopped.